William Kelly Major Works Commentary - 2 Thessalonians 2:1 - 2:17

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William Kelly Major Works Commentary - 2 Thessalonians 2:1 - 2:17

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

2 Thessalonians Chapter 2

The apostle now enters on the correction of the error which, as we shall see, false teachers had foisted in among the Thessalonians. It cannot be doubted that the early believers, whether those directly addressed or others elsewhere who received these epistles, understood and profited by the instruction conveyed. But it seems demonstrable that too soon afterwards the bare meaning of the apostle's words was lost, if we may judge from ancient versions and comments, and it is equally plain that modern translators and christian writers in general have not recovered its real scope till this day. In the verse before us, as is sometimes the case, the misunderstanding of a single word is the cause and proof of confusion prolific and irremediable For if Scripture, however unintentionally, be made to speak not alone ambiguously but in a way that misleads, the result, as far as it goes, is fatal. With the strongest desire to avoid exaggeration and, yet more, falsely accusing any soul, one is bound for the truth's sake to record the conviction that grave mischief is here done in the Revised Version, by the introduction of "touching" into their text, and "in behalf of" into their margin (2: 1). It will be shown that neither suits the context. We are in no way limited to these reflections of the Greek, especially where connected with words of entreaty. The Authorised Version, in the main point before us, is substantially better; yet the misrendering has been considered by not a few as a decided improvement: so thoroughly has the aim or argument of the apostle been for the most part misapprehended.

In a comparatively minor detail that follows in the verse, the Revisers have shown better scholarship; for neither "by" nor any substitute for it has a right to stand in the last clause. The structure of the phrase not only requires no such insertion but absolutely precludes and condemns any supplement of the kind. Christ's coming and our gathering together unto Him are expressly bound together, as closely associated events of the deepest moment to the saints. The older translation shows that those responsible for it paid no heed to this, the unequivocal import of the construction, for they have, on the contrary, interpolated a word which however small, severs the objects, which the form of the original does and could not but intimate to be in the strictest union. The Revisers were therefore at liberty and indeed responsible as faithful translators to expunge the second "by." They thereby represent the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him as two parts of the joint idea brought before us by the Holy Spirit.

But the great question is, what is the real bearing in this connection, of that joint object before the reader? and what in particular is the true force of the preposition employed by the Spirit of God? The Authorised Version says "by," the Revisers give "touching" in the text, and in the margin they add "Gr. in behalf of." The usage of πρ, if we come to facts even in the New Testament alone, is pretty wide; but the context as ever has immense and distinct and decisive control in helping us to determine the intended import. There is the difficulty that ρωτν πρ is only found here, whereas π. περ is of frequent occurrence and unquestioned meaning. Compare John 17 where it is found repeatedly, and can have but one force - to pray or make request for - in the sense of "touching" or "concerning." Is it critical, or reasonable, that π. πρ should mean the same? It appears to me beyond doubt that it is not. The Revisers themselves give us not only "in behalf of" but "for the sake of," or more briefly and far more commonly "for." Now "in behalf of" renders no just sense in this context; but what of "for" i.e. "for the sake of?" "Now we beseech you, brethren, for (or, for the sake of) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him," etc.

Here we have a definite sense which fits in admirably with the connection. It is the bright object of hope and assured comfort, whereby the apostle besought the saints not to be distracted by the agitating apprehension, spread by false teachers, that the day of the Lord had actually dawned. flow far the Authorised translators may have so regarded the context, it is difficult to say; but the transition from "for the sake of," or "for," to "by reason of" or "by" is easy, and in this case might perhaps be allowed to approximate. Even Bishop Ellicott, who adopted "touching" for want of duly appreciating the contextual bearing if not necessity, admits that an adjurative meaning is grammatically tenable; and certain it is that, from the Vulgate to Erasmus, Zwingle, Calvin, Piscator, Beza, Estius, etc., a crowd of others hold to this as the true scope. Meyer first assumes that it is strange to the New Testament, and then argues against the reasonableness of the apostle's choosing for the object of adjuration the very point he is going to instruct them on. But this is his own oversight. They are distinct and even contrasted objects.

I cannot but think therefore that, while the Authorised Version in substance gives the sense, the Revisers have missed it completely, and substituted a meaning which tends to obscure and falsify the passage. The adjurative force "by" with a verb of entreaty is known from the earliest extant remains of classical Greek; and none can deny that the force of a motive or a plea ("for the sake of" or "for") abode to the last, and is nowhere more usual than in the Hellenistic Greek of the New Testament. So rendered, the phrase runs consistently, and the argument or ground of entreaty yields a meaning in perfect accordance with the verse that follows, and the entire paragraph. The blessed hope of being caught up to the Lord at His coming or presence is a most intelligible preservative against the false and disquieting rumour that the day of His judgment of the earth had come. Everyone can understand when it is brought before him, that such a consolatory and transporting prospect, if always in view, is calculated to deliver from the agitation and fear created by the delusive cry that the terrible day of the Lord was there. And so the apostle conjures them, not by "the day of the Lord" concerning which he was about to teach them (as he had been laying a ground for it in the previous chapter), but by "His presence" to gather them to Himself above, which was full of joyful associations. The subject-matter he treats of is that "day," and very full of terror, especially when misrepresented by some at Thessalonica as actually set in.

But where is the propriety of the supposition that the apostle beseeches them touching the coming of the Lord and the gathering of the saints unto Him? The error was about "the day of the Lord."

Did not the Revisers, like others who have thus translated the clause, assume that the presence (or coming) of our Lord is identical with His day, and render πρ here "touching," either because they quite identified these events in their thoughts, or because they had no distinct notion of the context? Now if the coming of the Lord be treated as the same as His day, what is the sense of beseeching them touching the same matter as is denied to be then present? If the day of the Lord be a source of disquiet and awful anxiety, nothing can be more appropriate than to beg them, for the sake of their most longed-for blessing in hope, not to be troubled by the false teaching that the dreaded epoch was come. The two objects are contrasted as in 1 Thess. 4, 5.

Thus, it is quite incorrect that "the coming of the Lord and our gathering together unto Him" is the subject-matter either before or after the entreaty in the verses before us. The reader has only to examine the preceding chapter 1 in order to be satisfied that the apostle has been laying bare the character of the day of the Lord, when (not the hope of the saints shall be realised, but) the righteous judgment of God shall be manifested. It is for this last they are here exhorted to wait, in patience and faith enduring all present persecution and affliction; for then are the glorified saints to reign with Christ in the kingdom of God, for which they were yet suffering. Then, and not before, will God recompense affliction to those that afflict the saints, and to the afflicted saints rest with Paul and his fellow-labourers. Neither will be when the saints are caught up to heaven, but when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with the angels of His power, rendering vengeance to those that know not God, and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus. For then the day will have come for His and their enemies to suffer as punishment everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He shall come, not to translate His saints to the Father's house, but to be glorified in them, and to be marvelled at in all those that believed, in that day,

Such is the real matter in hand: not in a single phrase is it the coming of the Lord to have us changed into His glorious likeness and in the Father's presence, but our appearing with Him in glory to the confusion of His adversaries overthrown before the wondering world, the day of righteous award for both to God's glory. Hence, if the apostle had been beseeching the saints "touching" the subject in discussion, and as to which they needed rectification, it ought to have been the day of the Lord and of our reigning in the kingdom with Him. Those who so render appear to have confounded "the coming" with "the day" of the Lord; whereas the one is the comforting hope against the fear of the other.

Equally plain is the bearing of what follows. For the apostle tells the saints that the day, of which the misleaders had falsely spoken as actually there could not be, however men may beguile about it, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed; and of course therefore the power or person that restrains meanwhile must à fortiori be gone out of the way. For the mystery of lawlessness already works; not yet is the lawless one revealed till the restraint is away. Once it is, the full display of Satan's power takes its course in the revelation of the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought, not by His coming simply, but by "the manifestation of His coming." Here again it is "the day of the Lord," when righteous judgment deals publicly with friends and adversaries, and not His "coming" or presence, when He gathers His saints to Himself on high.

Can evidence then be asked more complete than what the context before and after furnishes, that the apostle beseeches the saints for (or by) their inspiriting hope, not to be upset in mind nor to be troubled about the day of the Lord as if there with its terrors? To beseech them touching that day, which he was going to paint in the most vivid colours, not to be uneasy as if it were now present is opposed to his words! as unlike the accustomed energy and precision of the apostle as can be conceived. He entreats by their hope against their fear.

That there is a marked distinction between the Lord's coming and His day respectively had already been laid before the Thessalonians in chapters 4 and 5 of the First Epistle. 1Th_4:15-17 explicitly show us the character and circumstances, the aim and consequences, of the coming of our Lord Jesus when the saints, dead or living, are gathered unto Him; as 1Th_5:1-3 plainly opens out the dread effect of that day when it overtakes the wicked. There is the strongest contrast between them, and not a word intimates that they occur at the same moment, though, no doubt, when the day arrives, it is still the coming of the Lord, and indeed not this only, "but the manifestation of His coming," and therefore with the utmost suitability called His "day." On the other hand, neither here nor in any part of Scripture is there a trace of the saints being caught up to meet the Lord in His day; for this is a further and subsequent step of His presence, when it is not the consummation of His love to His own, but the outpouring of His just indignation on His enemies as well as the no less righteous display of His friends with Himself in the same glory.

The misleaders at Thessalonica were not so infatuated as to imagine that the Lord had come, and by His presence gathered to Himself on high all the saints, whether departed, or alive and waiting for Him. Even they never dreamt that He had descended into the air, and translated all the once suffering children of God to be with Him glorified in heaven. Since it was patent to all eyes that the saints in Thessalonica, and their brethren throughout the world, were still on earth, they could hold no such suicidal thought as that the deceased saints were already raised from their graves, and themselves were left behind. The truth is that they were not thinking about the Lord's presence: their delusion was not on this score at all, but about "the day of the Lord," as verse 2 makes clear and indisputable. They did conceive that His "day" was not merely "at hand," which is true, but "present," which is false. Identify "the coming" with "the day" of the Lord, and all is confusion; distinguishing between them, you forthwith receive light, and need put no strain on the words, which are instructive in proportion to the discernment of their exact force.

For the Authorised Version is here wholly astray and even inconsistent with its own rendering of every occurrence of the word elsewhere. The reader can compare Rom_8:38, 1Co_3:22, 1Co_7:26; Gal_1:4; (2Ti_3:1;) and Heb_9:9, which form the entire range of the word in the New Testament. Not only does it not convey "at hand" in any one of the other cases, but such a sense would be everywhere absurd and impossible. In the first two references "things present" (νεσττα) are contrasted with "things to come." This could not be if the word really bore the sense of "just coming, imminent or at hand." So again in the third instance the distress was actually "present," not merely threatening but already come. Just as evidently in the fourth it is "the present age, evil as it is," αἰὼν οτος or νν αἰών as the apostle calls it in Rom_12:2 and 1Ti_6:17, contrasted with "that" or "the coming age" (Luk_18:30; Luk_20:35; Heb_6:5), which is the very reverse, being good, righteous, peaceful, and glorious. Nor should we wonder; since Satan shall no longer be the prince of the power of the air or god of the next age, as he is of this (2Co_4:4), but cast out and restrained, while the Lord reigns in displayed power and glory, instead of being as now hid in God. So even the different and future form in 2Ti_3:1, νστσονται, does not mean that difficult or grievous times "impend," but shall actually "come." "Shall be soon coming" would altogether enfeeble the sense and ruin its force. Not otherwise is it with the last reference, where the meaning beyond controversy is "for the present time." One can hardly conceive any reasonable man construing the phrase of the time soon to come or at hand. The future will be regulated on distinct principles, as to which Scripture is not silent.

Thus, on the ground of the New Testament usage, the weightiest help of all for our guidance in translating a disputed word, there can be no hesitation that the Revised Version is justified, and the Authorised Version at fault, as to the very important word at the end of the verse, the hinge of all sound exposition of the passage. But what of its use in the Septuagint, of such approved and acknowledged value as being the Hellenistic forerunner of New Testament Greek? The first instance, which Tromm (Concord. Gr. lxx. Interp. i. 529) cites from Theodotion's version of Dan_7:5, is a ridiculous blunder, ες καρους νεστθη. The Aldine text was not so far wrong, yet reading ες μρους which is hardly intelligible; and it has the same error as to the verb. The Complutensian gave it rightly, ες μρος ν στθη as in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS. The Chisian copy of the true Septuagint gives π το νς πλευρο στθη. But this effaces the only instance save in the Apocryphal books; where Tromm gives 3 Esdras 5 72 [47], 9, 6; 1 Mac. xii. 44; 2 Mac. iii. 17, iv. 43; xii. 3, every one of which confirms the Revised Version in all respects, and the Authorised Version in every case save the unfounded "is at hand" before us, which means, and can only mean, "is present."

It may be added that the word, and in the perfect too, is used in ordinary classical authors precisely as in the New Testament. See Herod. i. 83, Isoc. 82 B; Polyb. i. 71, 4; Plut. Lucull. 13; Dem. 255, 10, cf. 274, 6. The three instances, like the rest cited by Deans Liddell and Scott, in their well-known Lexicon (Aristoph. Nub. 779, Isaeus 88. 40, Dem. 896, 29), are of the usual import not "imminent" but "present," actually begun, literally set in. In each the suit was already commenced, even if still pending. It is the same beyond doubt with νν νεστηκς γν, Lycurg, 148, 32; το νεστ. μηνς, Phil. apt Dem. 280. 12 means the present month, not one soon coming; and so does νεστ. πλεμος in Aesch. 35, 27. And χρνος ν., means the present, not future tense; as τραματα ν., Plat. Legg. 378 B, means wounds inflicted, not merely threatened; and τ ν., or ν πργματα, Xen. Hell. 2. 1, 6; Polyb. 2. 26, 3, means present circumstances, in no case "at hand." Not any instance has been produced where the word in the perfect can be shown to mean a state of things not yet commenced. The sense then, in writings as well profane as sacred, is uniformly "present," not "at hand." The rendering was therefore inexcusable.

This may suffice in a well-grounded way to assure the reader that the error so unscrupulously taught by fanatics in Thessalonica was, not that the day is "at hand" (for the apostle himself taught this expressly in Rom_13:12), but that it had "actually come." These mischievous men were probably of similar type as Hymenaeus and Philetus, "who concerning the truth erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some" (2Ti_2:18). The resurrection could be only thus explained away as accomplished, by reducing it allegorically to some spiritual privilege already received; as many writers, and even commentators, counted orthodox, have misinterpreted "the first resurrection" in Rev. 20. Some such attenuation by giving a present bearing is as easily understood, as of the day of the Lord, if not more so. For while that day can never be fulfilled in all its scope, till Jehovah executes judgment on the quick here below and brings in His own reign, when all things rejoice instead of groaning as now, yet judicial inflictions in God's ways on Israel or the heathen were designated by "that day" in the Old Testament. Take Isaiah 3, 7, and still more evidently 13, and 19. For what can be clearer than that a then sweeping and exterminating judgment on a people and country, as of old on Babylon or on Egypt, is called the "day of the Lord" on them? Yet no doubt there remained momentous elements as yet unfulfilled which await "the day" in the fullest sense at the end of the age.

Joel 1, 2 may illustrate this same thing. The day of the Lord is similarly introduced and with similar characteristics. It is a day that comes as a destruction from the Almighty; a day of darkness and of gloominess; a day of cloud and of thick darkness; great and very terrible, and who can abide it? It is a day which, however it might fall on any in a measure through Medes or Persians, through Greeks or Romans, looks onward to its completeness at length, when the Lord rises up to shake not the earth only but also heaven. Compare Zep_1:7-18 with Zep_3:8-20, Zech. 12-14.

Now it is very intelligible that a misleader might avail himself of the germinant or partial application of the prophecies in ancient times to affirm that the sore troubles and persecution the Thessalonians then endured along with external distress and political convulsion, etc., indicated that day. It was not indeed Christ's presence, nor were the saints translated to heaven, which twofold event could not of course be pretended in any way to have taken place; for it is here pleaded as a self-evident guard against the error in circulation, that the day of the Lord's dealing with the living on earth had begun, and that the saints were involved in its terrors. So far in fact were any from so egregious a fancy as that Christ had come, that beyond controversy the apostle could entreat them by* (or, for the sake of) His presence and our gathering together unto Him, that they should not credit the alarming rumour that His day was there. That is, every believer in his senses was fully aware that Christ had not come, but was in heaven still, and that the saints were as yet on earth instead of being caught up to Him above. Therefore the apostle does make this a ground of appeal why they should not receive the mischievous report, no matter how strongly in appearance commended, that His day had actually dawned. Christ's presence and our gathering unto Him on high must precede that day. That on the one hand so great a joy, so bright a hope, was not the actual portion of the saints and that on the other (while Christ was still absent; they themselves and their brethren were as yet on earth, were obvious facts and irrefragable reasons why the day could not be come. The saints are to appear from heaven following Christ to bring in that day, See Rev_17:14; Rev_19:14. In order to this they must be translated there previously; and so we see them symbolised as in heaven from Rev. 4 and onward.

*It may be remarked here that not only older scholars like Erasmus and Beza hold to "by" as the true sense in this connection, but Wahl of recent years adds his high authority, as also Matthiae and Jelf allow the principle, and the late Greek Professor Scholefield of Cambridge, though preferring "concerning" from not understanding the argument and context.

The phraseology too, if scrutinised, will be found consistent only with this view, irreconcilable with the popular confusion which clouds these verses. For the apostle beseeches the Thessalonians, as we have seen, "that ye be not quickly shaken in [lit. from your] minds* nor yet troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from [lit. by] us, as that the day of the Lord is present." As it is an offence against every sound exegetical principle to imagine that "the coming of the Lord" in verse 1 differs from that which had been so distinctly revealed in the first Epistle (1 Thess. 4), so equally are we bound to interpret "the day of the Lord" here with what was laid down in 1 Thess. 5. Providential or figurative applications are thus out of the question. The New Testament at least employs both terms in the full and final sense.

* It would seem scarce credible to intelligent Christians if happily ignorant of the dreary comments written on Scripture, that Dr. Macknight interprets this as "shaken from any honest purpose which they had formed concerning their worldly affairs"! But his translation, popular as the work has been, is as incompetent as his commentary is worldly-minded throughout.

Those who in our day speak of a providential coming of the Lord are on the same ground with the fabulists of Thessalonica who insinuated a figurative day of the Lord with this difference (it is true) that the former apply that coming to the future, the latter to the time then present. Consistency of interpretation refutes both. A partial meaning of either term is excluded from these epistles, which in fairness cannot be allowed consistently to teach anything short of the complete events. The resurrection of the saints bound up with Christ's coming, and the awful depth and extent of the judgment to be executed on the apostate powers of evil and on all who, believing not the truth, had pleasure in unrighteousness, point unmistakably to the intervention of the Lord in person.

We are told by excellent and intelligent Christians that the apostle's object here was to calm down the too ardent or wild anticipation of the Lord's immediate return. But as to this the prevalent confusion meets us. It took a stirring form says its champion, in the Thessalonian church. Their inexperienced minds and warm hearts were plied with the thrilling proclamation that the day of Christ [rather, "of the Lord"] was at hand or imminent [not so, for νστηκεν never means this but "is present"]. Is it not passing strange that able Christian men, who differ widely as to Christ's advent and reign, should coalesce in an evident misapprehension of what the apostle does say and mean? He "fearlessly crushed"* the delusion that the day was come. He besought them, by (or, for the sake of) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him, not to be troubled by that false alarm. This was a powerful motive against believing the dreaded day to have arrived: but how could such a hope disprove the view that the day was "at hand," even if he did not himself so teach elsewhere? It is exactly a premillennialist who could most fully be expected to make or appreciate that entreaty. A post-millennialist does not even comprehend it as it stands, but instinctively slips off into false rendering and bad exegesis; and this from the necessity of a starting-point which effectually bars intelligence of the meaning. He therefore naturally and utterly mistakes both what the Thessalonians thought, and what the apostle says in opposition to their thought. Those alone are right who affirm that the apostle meant only to deny that the day of the Lord had begun or was actually present; and one may hope that the passage is on the way to be so understood, now that the Revisers have corrected this faulty verse.†

* Brown's Christ's Second Coming, sixth edition, pp. 42-49, 425-433 Elliott's Horae Apocalypticae, fifth edition, iii. 91 et seqq., iv. 184 - 187.

† Mr. Mede and Bishop Horsley wrote when the misrendering is "at hand" supplanted "present" to the total darkening of the apostolic argument. The latter in particular quite misconceives the occasion of the Second Epistle, for it was an error, backed up by forgery, about the living saints as it involved in the day of the Lord; whereas the First Epistle corrected the mistake about the dead saints at Christ's coming, which may not have had any such unhappy source.

The "long and complicated series of events" to be developed, the very commencement of which was retarded by an obstacle then in being while the apostle wrote, was to crush, not the waiting for Christ's coming as a proximate hope, but the false statement that the day of the Lord was there already. The designing men in question did not set themselves systematically to urge the nearness of His coming, which all the New Testament does; their pretension to spiritual inspiration, their solemn utterance, their forgery of a letter under Paul's name, were all to give colour and currency to the wholly distinct and false insinuation that the day of the Lord was come then and there.

Hence it was not enthusiastic and feverish excitement associated with the expectation of Christ's coming and the fruition of the Christian's joy with Him in glory. It was the operation of dismay and terror, as if that day of unsparing judgment and of inevitable horror had set in on them. To be "shaken" from their [or, in] mind or "agitated" (σαλευθναι) is descriptive of the disquiet and perturbation caused by fear; still more plainly does it flow from the same source to be "frightened" or "troubled" (θροεσθαι), which (less, if possible, than s.) suits the impatient and impetuous enthusiasm of a wrongly excited hope. It is in a quite different connection that we read in the last chapter of disorderly brethren who did not work as became them: spurious hope might produce this result; but nothing of the kind is implied here in 2 Thess. 2.

It will be seen that all this warping of details, as well as misinterpretation as a whole, by men otherwise to be respected, turns on the erroneous assumption that the express subject of discourse is the second personal coming of our Lord; and that it is to guard against the notion that His personal coming was "at hand" or imminent. Not so: this is divine truth everywhere taught in the New Testament, and nowhere so constantly, clearly, and urgently as in these Epistles. The apostle is really exposing and uprooting the delusion that the day of the Lord was now present. Do those confusing expositors aver that the Thessalonian dealers in false alarm as to that day thought or pretended that the Lord Himself was come or present in power and glory? The fact is, that on the contrary the apostle begs the saints, by His coming which would gather them together to Him in perfect peace and endless joy, not to be troubled with the deceptive cry that the day so awe-inspiring had begun. This cry is nowhere imputed to a misconstruction of the apostle's words in the first epistle. Even if we punctuate with Lachmann, and Theile, etc., or with Webster and Wilkinson, the only real meaning is the claim of a spirit of communication, oral ministry, and a letter, falsely attributed to the apostle. Of course it in no way emanated from really earnest Christians, but from fraudulent men who misled them. Tertullian and Chrysostom are right; Whitby, etc., quite wrong.

A Christian writer of late contends for a figurative sense here only to be given to the coming or presence of our Lord in verse 1, supplemented by verse 8; because, he rightly thinks, the destruction of Antichrist immediately precedes, not the eternal state, but the millennial reign. Hence, as he will not have the reign of our Lord to be personal, he construes His antecedent coming as a figure. Now the decisive answer is, not only that in other New Testament cases (and notably in these epistles, as he himself allows) the presence (παρουσα) of our Lord is invariably personal and in grace, and not merely providential and in judgment, but that His presence is inseparably joined to "our gathering together to Him." Will he venture to say that the translation of the saints to heaven is here ?figurative* and why should both be literal in 1 Thess. 4 where they are also (though in another way) shown to be indissolubly bound as immediate cause and consequence? Such a figurative force given to our Lord's coming is overturned by our gathering together unto Him conjoined to it; as it would also nullify the apostle's appeal (grounded on that blessed hope not yet realised) against the imposture that the day of the Lord was come. The truth is that the postmillennial coming is a myth, not less certainly than the Thessalonian delusion about the day; as is every form of the popular misinterpretation based on the false translation of these verses, especially of νστηκεν in verse 2. To argue on the π of the man of sin in verse 9, as if it is assuredly to be impersonal, shows how prejudice can blind a usually vigorous reasoner to build one assumption on another, without one element of solid truth more than in the fabled piling of Ossa on Pelion. The coming of our Lord and our gathering to Him above, which all must have known to be yet future, is the motive to dispel the delusion that His day had arrived; and hence His coming is not identified with His day - the real subject in question (which would be senseless), but contra-distinguished from it. Never can there be an intelligent grasp of the apostle's reasoning, never a comprehensive view of the context, till this distinction is seized, an immense help to the understanding of other scriptures also.

* I am aware that Dr. Whitby, the father of the popular theory of a future reign of the saints on earth without Christ, interprets, as a primary explanation, the π of Christ's coming to destroy Jerusalem! and πισ. as the gathering of Jewish converts to Christian churches!! as they often worshipped in the synagogues till that destruction. Did Paul, Silvanus Timothy, the Thessalonian saints so worship, and so need to be gathered then? The figurative view of blessed facts is false.

It will have been observed that the subject-matter was no new revelation to the Thessalonians. It had particularly occupied the apostle's spirit when he had visited their city, not only in teaching the saints but even in the public preaching to the world. And his First Epistle had set out carefully for all the saints, asleep or alive, the circumstances, order, character, and issue of the Lord's "coming" (especially since some misapprehension had sprung up in their minds touching the deceased); as he had not kept back the solemn nature of the judgment awaiting men in their unbelief when His "day" comes suddenly upon them. He had now applied His coming in all its joyful associations to dispel the fresh and alarming error that the "day" had arrived - an error for which its propagandists falsely alleged the highest authority, spirit, word, and letter even of the apostle himself. For it is sad to see that, when the truth is lost, those who depart from it are apt to be no longer truthful, and become the dupes of Satan by unscrupulous perversion to give currency to their error. But the apostle entreats the saints by Christ's coming and their consequent gathering unto Him on high not to be shaken or troubled by any such dream as that His day was come. They must be with Him before it, in order to appear with Him in glory when that day comes for the judgment of the quick. When men are saying Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, so that they shall not escape. Nothing like this had happened as yet: rather the converse of trouble and persecution for the saints, and of ease for their troublers, which is to be exactly reversed when that day comes.

From verse 3 begins a new line of disproof, not a motive from their blessed hope, but a reason founded on the positive fact that the stupendous evil about to work in its successive steps must be developed and manifested in its last and ripened form, with which "the day of the Lord" is to deal according to the prophetic word.

"Let none deceive you in any way; because [it will not be] except the falling away shall have come first, and the man of sin* be revealed, the son of perdition" (verse 3).

* Tischendorf, in his last edition, and Westcott and Hort follow B, some 9 or 10 cursives, and several ancient versions, etc., in preferring "lawlessness" to "sin" in this phrase.

Not a hint drops as to "the coming of the Lord." Tyndale's Version of 1534 and Cranmer's of 1539 are therefore inexcusable in supplying the ellipse with the words, "for the Lord shall not come," etc. Wiclif and the Rhemish avoid the matter by their usual adherence to the Vulgate, which literally reflects the incomplete structure of the Greek. The Geneva and Authorised Versions so far rightly cleave to "the day;" for it is a question of "the" day of the Lord. His "coming" is kept apart from these predicted enormities, which must surely be fulfilled, each in its season, but both before that "day" come, in which the Lord is to judge them. But there is a careful reserve as to His coming, which is kept outside prophetic times and seasons as a constant hope, having only been introduced as a motive why the saints should not lend an ear to the unfounded and absurd rumour, whatever the authority claimed for it, that "that day" had come already. The Lord at any rate had clearly not come: else the saints had been at once gathered unto Him above. Thus His presence indisputably was not yet a fact; and it would, not only when fulfilled, but if kept by faith steadily in view now, preserve them from those vain fables and fears. His coming, or presence, is not the accomplishment but precursor of the day of the Lord; His appearing does synchronise with that day.

But the saints were liable to be beguiled in other ways: hence the fresh warning, and the distinct instruction that the apostacy must come before that day, and the revelation of the man of sin. Let us consider both in the light of the word. They are assumed to be more or less known already. Scripture has furnished light as to both; and the apostle had not been silent as to either when personally with them.

Our Authorised translators have utterly weakened the sense by rendering π. "a" falling away. Beyond doubt it is "the apostacy," and there is no ground whatever for depriving the phrase of its intentionally definite force. Nobody can pretend that it is abstract; and a quality would not have the article in Greek more than in English, so that Archbishop Newcome was as wrong in the principle as in the particular case. In the New Testament the word occurs only in Act_21:21, and there is anarthrous, which testifies to the emphasis here expressed. There however it means "apostacy" though not "the apostacy" as here. This is better than softening it to falling away or forsaking. A verbal form occurs in 1Ti_4:1, where "apostatise" should have been preserved both for the sake of consistency, and to maintain the definite expression of religious defection. For this it means, not corruption but abandonment, as politically it expresses revolt from authority. See the Septuagint for its use in both these ways.

Here then we have in this brief but expressive phrase the Holy Spirit's expression of that state of things which must precede the day of the Lord. (1) The apostacy must come first; and (2) the man of sin must be revealed, the son of perdition.

(1) In 1 Tim. 4 it is only "some in later times" who apostatise from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience, etc. It is an ascetic departure from the faith in the pretension to superior sanctity, but real denial of God's rights as Creator and grace as Saviour. In 2 Thess. 2 it is no such partial turning away, but the extreme and general defection from the gospel which will boldly issue in the abandonment of all revealed truth and of what may be called natural religion, the testimony to the Godhead in creation and man's conscience. It is the revolt which the prophetic word declares shall characterise the end of this age, as is so largely and variedly revealed in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, in the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation. Deut. 31, Deut. 32, Psalms 10 - 14, Isa. 65, Isa. 66, Dan_7:8; Dan_7:11; Dan_7:25, Dan_9:27, may suffice for the Old Testament. In the New one may cite Mat_12:31-32; Mat_12:43-45, Luk_17:26-30, Luk_18:8, 2Ti_4:4, besides 2 Thess. 2, 2 Peter 3, Jude, and Revelation throughout. These Scriptures warrant the awful expectation that both Jews and Christians will abandon their profession of the truth for which they are respectively responsible, and God be left publicly and in general without a witness of His truth and glory here below, save in the confession of a persecuted remnant and in the execution of His solemn and ever deepening strokes of judgment.

Sad to say, the graver men among Jews and Mohammedans (probably instructed indirectly by Old Testament prophecy) allow more of the ruin here below and the approaching apostacy than many Christians do. Even the Mussulmans own that the Jews are for the mass to abandon the law, themselves the Koran, and the Christians the gospel, before God sends Jesus to judge the world. Certain Christians, misguided alas! by the infidel dream of progress, look for a gradual advance of Christendom to extend itself over all the world, if they do not, like some beguiled yet more by human vanity, expect a state of semi-perfection here below. Scripture however, though it proclaims the gospel of the kingdom, never admits for one moment a kingdom of the gospel, the common delusion of Papists and Protestants. The truth is, that Christendom returns rapidly to that pride, self-will, contempt of the truth and of real godliness, with moral degradation, which characterised the world before the gospel; and 2 Tim. 3 had already prepared us for it. But "the apostacy" goes farther still and supposes the general renunciation of the public profession of the truth here below.

(2) Nor is this all; for the abandonment of the Christian faith leads to another and worse development of evil: the revelation of "the man of sin, the son of perdition." He is to be the evident and personal contrast of Christ, the Man of righteousness, the Saviour of the lost. He will concentrate in himself the wickedness of man and the destructive power which Satan wields, the antagonist of the Lord in a fulness which Judas Iscariot had only in measure, though both are designated alike by the same tremendous name (Joh_17:12) which points to a doom most signal.

Of this personage also Scripture speaks in both the Old Testament and the New. Without citing types in the Law, there is a wicked one within (not merely an enemy outside) who is everywhere prominent in the Psalms. Isa_11:4 (formally in view of the Holy Spirit in ver. 8 of our chapter) identifies him with the man of sin, and Isa_30:33, Isa_57:9, describe him as "the king," the usurper of His throne whose right it is, Dan_11:36-39 yet more fully. The Lord speaks of him in Joh_5:43, as the Epistles of John call him "the Antichrist," and Rev. 13 "the second beast" from the earth, and "the false prophet" who in Rev. 19 perishes with the last head of the fourth empire revived, or first beast from the sea.

Apostate as he is, he none the less is a religious power, and is indeed such distinctively as compared with the then Emperor, the political head of the West, he in the East being the chief of religion. Though he is a king, his main and marked influence is not as a secular power but in a religious way. None can doubt this who weighs the various passages of holy writ here brought together, or even this one capital revelation in our chapter. No doubt he is really as infidel as the secular power in the West, his wicked ally, but his characteristic is spiritual, backed by every sort of power and signs and wonders of falsehood according to the working of Satan, and by every sort of deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish.

It is notorious that unbelief has wrought in divers ways to divert this prophecy from its true object and real scope. Thus a little before and at and since the Reformation those who struggled against the papacy applied freely the man of sin to that corrupt hierarchy, as the later Greeks understood the apostacy of many oriental churches which fell into Islamism, and the man of sin to be Mohammed. So, when the French revolution broke out, and Napoleon Bonaparte rose on its fall, many applied the chapter to those stirring events, just as earlier men like Grotius, Wetstein, Whitby, etc., had applied it to the evils of the Jews and the destruction of their city and temple. But there remains the undeniable fact that the oldest extant interpretation, which survived for centuries among the ever darkening fathers Greek and Latin, recognised the yet future apostacy just before the close, and the personal Antichrist to be overthrown by the Lord Jesus returning for judgment. I attach no authority whatever to the statements of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus, of Tertullian and Lactantius. But even such as Jerome and Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem and Chrysostom, held firmly to a personal Antichrist to be destroyed by Christ appearing from heaven. As an expositor no ancient writer excels the eloquent Archbishop of Constantinople in simplicity and perhaps understanding of Scripture. Here is his comment on the verse before us: "Concerning the Antichrist, he discourses here and reveals great mysteries. What is the apostacy? Him he calls apostacy, as about to destroy many, and cause them to revolt so that, He says, if possible, the very elect should be stumbled. And he calls him man of sin; for he will work, and furnish others to work countless things dreadful. And he calls him son of perdition because of his being destroyed himself. Who is he then? Satan? By no means, but a man receiving all his energy; for he is a man." (S. Io. Chrys. in loco, v. 465, 466, Field, Oxon. 1865.) This confusion of the apostacy with the man of sin is not intelligent; but the main statement is correct, and the personality of the Antichrist evident, as in the mind of the fathers generally.

Bellarmine and other Romish advocates (who would parry the application to the papacy by the argument that "the" man of sin, "the" son of perdition, etc., necessarily means an individual, not a succession or class) some excellent men of what is called the Protestant school essay to meet by quoting "the" priest, "the" king, etc., as sufficiently establishing a class, not an individual. But these are words of office, and so differ from the very definite and singular description in our chapter; and assuredly as "many antichrists" elsewhere, so "many deceivers," cannot swamp the unity of "the deceiver and the antichrist" in 2 John. It is in vain also to urge "the one that hinders or restrains," and "that which restrains" in our chapter, which may well be, and I believe is really, meant to express one who is both a person and a power, as may be shown in its place.

Now though it be true that "the king of the north" and "king of the south" are in Dan. 11 applied to several kings of Syria and of Egypt, yet is neither used vaguely for a line of kings there, as this argument would insinuate and require, but in each several instance circumstances are connected so as to mark off one king from another, and make every one individually recognisable. Next, after the full account of Antiochus Epiphanes from verses 21 to 32, closing with a transition (in 33-35) where we hear of neither the north nor the south, a break occurs which carries us down "to the time of the end." Then with notable abruptness we are confronted from verse 36 with the king that shall do according to his will, etc. That is, the analogy of the chapter is dead against the desired succession or class; for, to warrant it in 36-39, a class ought to be intended in each of verses 5, 6, 7, and so on. But the truth is that each speaks of a distinct king of the south: in verse 5 meaning Ptolemy Soter; in 6 the daughter of Ptolemy Philadelphus; in 7 Ptolemy Euergetes. On the same principle which had applied uniformly elsewhere in the chapter, verses 36-39 ought to describe a single individual and not a class, even if a king of the north or of the south had been intended.

The fact is, however, that here "in the time of the end," as the careful reader sees, culminates the main interest of all the previous series. Here we have a king characteristically different from all else, who becomes in a future day the object of attack to the king of the north and the king of the south "in the land," i.e., of Palestine, which lies between them, and thus becomes in that day once more the battle-ground of nations. Hence what makes the point absolutely conclusive, this very king in "the land" is described by the prophet in terms which the apostle so applies to the man of sin as to prove that they both mean the precisely same object; and this, not a succession of men, but a single individual, yet to appear and oppose the Lord Jesus, and to be destroyed by the manifestation of His coming. In this way light is cast mutually on these remarkable passages of Old and New Testament scripture; and certainly, if the reader of 2 Thessalonians derives help from comparing the Epistle with the prophecy, he who studies the bearing of Dan_11:36-39 may and ought to receive yet fuller light from the later writing of the apostle here brought before us.

There is also a simple and complete answer to the unbelieving cavil of a late Oxford Essayist, to the effect that there is "not only minute description of Antiochus' reign, but a stoppage of such description at the precise date 169 B.C." For we are conducted step by step down to that which exactly gives the general description of the Jewish state, which will reappear at the time of the end. Then suddenly is brought before us, in that time of the end, a lawless king in Judea, setting himself up above every god, and speaking words against the God of gods; regarding neither Jehovah nor Messiah, yet, while magnifying himself above all, honouring a god of his own. Had there not been a stoppage at that point, the prophecy could not have been stamped with its actual perfection. The same Spirit gives minute predictions of contending Lagidae and Seleucidae for centuries after the prophet's day (stopped at the only just point), and resumes with at least equal minuteness the solemn crisis in the land, and the kings of north and south once more joining in that strife, which only closes in the day of blessing for the land and the earth and for man to God's glory which shall not pass away. Are we content to become fools that we may be wise? "None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand."

But there is further light from God cast on the man of sin, the son of perdition (ominous as are these indications of evil beyond precedent and measure), who is to be revealed before the day comes which is to be his destruction. "He that opposeth and exalteth himself exceedingly against every one called god, or object of veneration, so that he sitteth down in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (ver. 4). There is no sufficient warrant for the words "as God" in the Received Text as in our Authorised Version. They rather soften the force, where the true text leaves the assumption in its unmitigated arrogance.

Scripture in its various notices of this future head of evil brings into prominence different characteristics which are to meet in him distinctively. He is to come in his own name, the impersonation of self-sufficiency as of independence of God. This will suit the then spirit of the age. Men, the Jews in particular, will be ripe for it and hail it gladly. It will gratify and crown their selfishness. Of old they would not have the One Who came in His Father's name. It was irksome to their proud hearts to see and hear One Who was here only to do the will of Him that sent Him, only to manifest the Father's name, only to make known His love and glory. They admired a bold and free spirit, daring, and self-assertive, The lowly mind was as far from their ideal of man as abhorrent to them practically. "I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father hath taught Me, I speak these things." Such servant-like humility and devotedness was hateful in their eyes, as it could only condemn their ways and words. Had they known the glory of Him Who there spoke, that He was the Son, the Word, the Creator of all, it would have increased their amazement and forced them to own themselves at deadly issue with that only and true God, of Whose testimony they considered themselves the exclusive and faithful guardians. Faith in Christ would have broken them down in utter self-abasement and self-judgment; and they would have seen the Father, by and in the Son, wholly different from all their thoughts.

The Jews then, not only in Christ's day but since, "this generation," rejecting their Messiah, the Son of God come in the infinite humiliation of divine grace, were manifestly of the devil as father, not of Abraham whose seed they were, still less of God Whose name they claimed only for pride; and as they had no standing in the truth, so they were more and more developing into lawless violence like him who from the beginning was a murderer and a liar. By and by the Jews will take the farther step of receiving one to come in his own name, and this as their Messiah. This will be no doubt the depth of moral darkness, for Scripture is not silent as to the righteous and holy character of Jehovah's Anointed. Psalms 16, 22, 40, 69, 72, 75, 91, 101, 102; 132, 144-150; Prov. 8; Isa. 9, 11, 12, 25, 42, 49, 50, 52, 53, 59, 60, 61, 63 are ample testimonies from a small part of Scripture. Space fails merely to cite the barest references in the Old Testament to the moral perfectness of Jehovah-Messiah and His future reign. So that, as the Jews were without excuse when they failed to discern the true and divine Messiah, so will they be yet more (after rejecting Him) in receiving the full and final representative of selfishness, which Satan will bring before them in the antichrist of the latter day. "Him," said the Saviour, "ye will receive." This awaits "the many" in the land, and the time hastens.

John brings out other features of their coming leader. "Who is the (not "a") liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son" (1Jn_2:22). Here we learn that there are two steps: the denial of the Jewish confession that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, which is the fatal unbelief of that nation; the denial of the Father and the Son, which is the equally fatal repudiation of the christian confession. The antichrist will be the chief outcome of the twofold blasphemous infidelity, the spirit of apostacy, not only among the Jews, but of Christendom. He will be the Head of both; and that the unbelieving Jews and Christians can and will have a common head is enough to show how complete must be the apostacy. The denial of the Father and the Son is the rejection of the fullest revelation of grace and truth from God to man, and this is now going on in Christendom, not ignorance only of such infinite love in the person of the Lord Jesus, but heart-opposition and unbelieving dislike and defamation. Into this outward professors are gradually falling from a mere creed-profession; from it nothing will truly preserve, but the living faith of God's elect according to His power Who saved and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began - the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.

But the lie of Satan will go farther than the denial of that especial display of grace and truth, of the Father and the Son; for it will, as we have seen, reject even the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus pave the way for that awful amalgam of unbelieving Jews and Christians who will accept the antichrist as their one head. "For many deceivers," as John says in his Second Epistle, "are gone out into the world, those that confess not Jesus coming in flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist." If they refused the highest and deepest revelation, it might be supposed that they would allow the least. But no; the hour approaches when the work of deceivers will be complete, and Christendom, proud and effete, will fall under the power of the lie to the utmost, along with the blinded Jews. And this gives distinctness to the sitting in the temple of God spoken of in the end, and dispose